Apparel factory owners in Bangladesh are concerned over a recent decision by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh that it will not accept some of the inspection reports done by members of its rival group, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
Duplication of factory inspections was one of the major worries of apparel manufacturers when the two groups were formed last year following the building collapse at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, which claimed the lives of 1,133 people. Initially the two organizations said they would each respect the other’s inspection reports, but the accord’s recent statement indicates otherwise.
The decision means that factories that produce for brands belonging to both the alliance and the accord will have to undergo two separate inspection processes, and potentially abide by two separate standards. About 120 to 150 factories produce for brands in both groups.
Rob Wayss, executive director of the Bangladesh operations of the accord, said, “The accord quite frankly accommodated a request that was made to avoid duplication and I think we came up with a very good solution that seriously considers the request/demands made by the government and the suppliers, and is also consistent with the requirements of the accord itself. Brad [Loewen, chief safety inspector of the accord] has considered the inspections done by the alliance on the standards that were set by the ILO [International Labor Organization] and are being used by the alliance and the accord. But the inspections that were sanctioned or done by the brands themselves we will not accept.”
The issue has been in the spotlight since factory inspections began last year to comb the 3,500 garment factories in Bangladesh for safety issues after the Rana Plaza tragedy. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of garments in the world, after China, and the $22 billion garment industry provides employment to almost 4 million workers in Bangladesh.
The accord, which is led by IndustriAll Global Union and UNI Global Union and signed by 180 companies, including H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Primark and C&A, was launched in May 2013. The alliance includes 26 brands and retailers such as the Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc., VF Corp. and Target Corp.
As the accord teams head into their last three weeks of completing inspections of the 1,500 factories that their brands and retailers cover, the issue of shared factory inspections has become crucial to completion.
“We’ve explained the decision to BGMEA [Bangladesh Garment and Manufacturer Exporters Association]. They clearly understand the decision of the accord and the sense I get is that they appreciate that the accord has seriously acted on the request/demand that they were making of us on the basis of the feedback that they were supposedly receiving from their members,” Wayss said.
According to a policy statement issued by the accord on the joint accord-alliance factories, the accord would give “qualified consideration to inspection reports by firms working for the alliance staff, utilizing these reports in the formulation of corrective action plans.”
The statement noted that the alliance inspections could be divided into two categories: “Inspections done by firms hired directly by the alliance and inspections done by firms hired by alliance brands.
“The accord requires inspections to be carried out independently of individual brands, by persons acting under the direction of the accord’s chief safety inspector. Inspection work directed by or on behalf of alliance brands does not meet this standard,” the policy statement said.
Wayss said the next step would be to “work with the alliance on getting the reports inspected so that we can generate a corrective action plan and begin moving forward on making sure that the requirements of the Accord as relates to the remediation and the engagement of the brands takes place.
“We will be meeting the alliance this week on some of the issues relating to execute the decision of the steering committee. From all indications we have right now, we need to see the full reports of what their inspectors did and the corrective action plan and we expect that the alliance will be cooperative in this regard and we have no reason to believe that they won’t,” Wayss said.
The alliance completed the inspections of its 587 factories in July, a year after it began operations.
Talking about the reaction to the accord’s decision regarding inspections, Wayss observed that the issue was being “totally mischaracterized saying we would duplicate inspections.
“Actually it’s the exact opposite. We took a decision to avoid duplication and we are avoiding it in at least half the joint factories. The accord has taken the decision that Brad Loewen can, and will, consider the inspection reports on the inspections done by the alliance and the alliance engineers but it won’t consider what was done by the brands. That is consistent with what we’re doing within the accord and that’s a very good accommodation,” he said.
Although BGMEA members and individual factory owners told WWD that they were upset and dissatisfied with having to deal with additional inspections, Wayss said he did not agree with this description of factory owners’ attitudes.
“We just met with BGMEA earlier this week and we had a very productive engagement with them. We speak with them virtually every day — with their engineering and safety experts, their political leadership on issues related to the implementation of issues related to the accord and technical advice related to the corrective action. You know sometimes their public statements are not helpful and they have some political issues within the organization, but as far as our relationship with them, I think we have a very sound and constructive relationship,” he said. “We’re engaged with them intensively on a day-to-day basis.”
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